“Jesus, I trust in You”- Divine Mercy Sunday celebrated

The Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday, completes the Octave of Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the blessing of His continuing presence in our midst. The Gospel reading for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2024, recalls the encounter between St. Thomas (the doubting Apostle) and Jesus after the Resurrection.

Divine Mercy Sunday celebrates the mercy of Jesus as reminded to us by St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a religious sister who lived a humble life, to whom Jesus appeared. St. Faustina was born in Krakow, Poland and lived from 1905-1938. She was canonized by St. John Paul II in 2000, who at that time also declared the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. This celebration also honors St. Faustina’s vision of Jesus Christ, and His message of love and peace for the world.

St. Faustina wrote in her diary from private revelation that Jesus told her: “I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy (1109). The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (699).”

The image of the Divine Mercy was created by St. Faustina who was told to paint the image of Jesus as she saw Him. The painting has the saying at the bottom: “Jesus, I Trust in You.” The rays emanating from the Sacred Heart of Jesus represent water (white) – which makes souls righteous — and blood (red) — which is the life of souls, Jesus told St. Faustina.

Many Parishes throughout the Diocese hold Divine Mercy services and several have novenas of prayer leading up to the Sunday. The popularity of Divine Mercy has been embraced by many diverse communities throughout the Diocese.

At St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, Divine Mercy Sunday included the traditional afternoon prayer service in English and Spanish. This included the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a reflection from Father Pawel Kawalec, a recitation of the Divine Mercy Litany, singing of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Solemn Benediction.

The prayer service concluded when the faithful were invited to come forward and venerate the image of Divine Mercy which adorns the wall to the right of the altar and was decorated with flowers.

Alicia Torres attended the Divine Mercy prayer service with her two children and said her prayers were focused on seeking help for family members who need to have Christ in their life more. “This day is about seeking Jesus’ Mercy for ourself and our family and the whole world.”

At St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples, the Divine Mercy celebration included a presentation by Sister Teresa de la Fuente, Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (St. Faustina’s religious order).

Pope Francis, during the Regina Caeli on Divine Mercy Sunday, noted that the “fullness of life” comes not from the pursuit of transitory pleasure but is “realized in Jesus.”

In his address, Pope Francis drew upon the disciples, who were despondent and secluded in the Upper Room, “going through the most tragic moment in life,” to showcase how Christ’s coming to them was a deeply transformative moment, one that not only reveals His mercy but also promises a new life.

“The Risen One comes to them and shows them His wounds,” the Pope said. “They were the signs of suffering and pain, they could stir feelings of guilt, yet with Jesus they become channels of mercy and forgiveness.”


Easter Triduum celebrated in Diocese

The summit of the Liturgical Year is the Easter Triduum (March 28-31, 2024) — from the evening of Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday. Though chronologically three days, they are liturgically one day unfolding for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten Season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.

The liturgical services that take place during the Triduum are:

  • Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)
  • Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion (Good Friday)
  • Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Vigil)

Thousands of the faithful of the Diocese of Venice gathered at Parishes for the celebration of the Triduum.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park included the commemoration when Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion prior to His arrest and crucifixion. It also observes His institution of the priesthood. This Liturgy included the presentation of the oils blessed and consecrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during the March 26 Chrism Mass, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, which will be used for the Sacraments in the Parish throughout the year. Later was the traditional washing of the feet, reenacting Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. Following the Prayer after Communion, the Mass concluded with a procession to transfer the Holy Eucharist to a place of repose in the Parish Hall. This action left the tabernacle vacant until the Easter Vigil.

On Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, the faithful at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples participated in the Liturgy which included the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of John. Next was the presentation of the cross, brought forth by the priest and unveiled as the priest sang: “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” and the congregation responded: “Come let us adore.” The faithful were then encouraged to come forward to venerate the cross. This was done by either touching, bowing, or genuflecting.

Either prior to, or after, the Good Friday Liturgy, many Parishes hosted the Stations of the Cross, sometimes led by children or including a dramatic retelling.

For example, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, the Living Stations began in a field behind the Parish church, and then travelled through the neighborhood. The Stations were inclusive to include the languages of the Parish (Spanish, English and Creole). By the time the procession returned to the Parish the crowd had swelled into the thousands.

For the first time, a public Stations of the Cross took place in downtown Venice, starting at Epiphany Cathedral and proceeding into nearby Centennial Park and then down Venice Avenue. Approximately 800 took part, including members of the youth group, as streets were temporarily blocked.

On Holy Saturday, the only Mass of the day is the Easter Vigil

On Easter Sunday, several Parishes celebrated Mass at sunrise while extra Masses were added to accommodate the increased numbers common for this holiest of days.

Many Parishes also hosted fun for children which often included Easter egg hunts either on the Saturday or following a Children’s Liturgy on Sunday.

Deacons encouraged to increase outreach to Hispanic Catholic youth

Several dozen Permanent Deacons of the Diocese of Venice recently gathered to learn how to better serve young Hispanic Catholics, the fastest-growing population both in the Diocese and the nation.

Dr. Hosffman Ospino of Boston College shared practical examples for growth and success in this important demographic in the domestic Catholic Church. He was brought to speak to the Deacons through an invitation from Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

Bishop Dewane said he was pleased Ospino could talk to the Deacons about the needs of Hispanic youth, and tear down some of the misconceptions some have about the Hispanic community in general.

“The Hispanic presence, especially the young people, is not a threat to anyone,” Ospino said. “This is an opportunity, because they are of the same Church. The Church exists to evangelize and right now there is an urgency to evangelize these young men and women so they can become the next generation of evangelizers.”

Ospino praised the Permanent Deacons for answering the call to serve the Church “to go joyfully into the world to proclaim the Good News of the Lord. Because of this, you are the wisdom figure in your Parish communities. Deacons and their spouses are called to evangelize, not to preserve the past, but to ensure the future of our Parish communities.”

Offering a dizzying array of statistics, Ospino said that of the 32 million Roman Catholic Hispanics living in the U.S., about 19 million are 30 or younger. Of those 18 and younger, 94 percent were born in the U.S. and can speak English.

“There is pressure from elders for the younger generation to keep their immigrant roots, versus being Americanized,” Ospino said. “It is a question of cultural background. The only difference is their cultural background,” Ospino said. This means the programs that have worked for the last 25 years won’t work, because the families will pull their children out of any program once the families feel they are not being engaged.”

The answer is to form a partnership with the Hispanic families at the Parish, creating a spirit of cooperation to preach, teach and advocate for the children.

“The idea is to create a welcoming and affirming environment, giving the youth and parents a sense of agency,” Ospino said. “We don’t need state-of-the-art equipment in the classrooms. We need to reach them on the level where they will be engaged and have fun while growing in their relationship with Christ. You must listen to the community and ask for their needs. When you learn what the community wants, focus on one effort, and respond to that well. Know this, if you try to address everything, no outreach exists to do it all.”

Citing a dozen different programs from across the country that have had success in reaching Hispanic youth, Ospino said each serves a niche need within their communities. Some programs offer painting, cooking, music, and poetry classes alongside religious education, while others work on how to grow a relationship with Christ, starting with building better relationships in the household and in the community.

“This can be overwhelming when you are not even sure what will work, but you need to start somewhere,” Ospino said. “Pray together. Eat together. Serve together.”

Praying together can include a community Liturgy of the Hours or praying of the rosary. Eating together means having a Parish fair or festival that celebrates all cultures. The serving together is working in a unified effort to meet need in the community such as feeding the hungry or a clothing drive.

“These are simple, but this approach can work,” Ospino said. “It is you, the Deacons and your spouses, that can make it happen. This can be something that takes place four times a year, and it will grow because these are opportunities to grow as a community together, in the Glory of God.”

The Deacons were impressed by the presentation and noted how the reality of the increasing numbers of Hispanic Catholics in the Church is important to know and information they learned from Ospino will help outreach to this important population.

Bishop Dewane and Ospino encouraged the Deacons to return to their home Parish armed with inspiration and information on how to better connect to Hispanic Catholic youth. The potential to engage and attract more young people to grow in the faith was inspiring!

Sebring Parish marks century serving the Faithful

For 100 years the Faithful of Sebring in Highlands County have been able to call St. Catherine of Siena Parish their home.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for the St. Catherine community on the exact anniversary when the Parish was erected, March 2, 2024.

“Christ is the cornerstone of the Church, but you, the Faithful of St. Catherine, build up His House, you are the living stones,” Bishop Dewane said.

An anniversary is an important time to look at the past, the present and into the future, Bishop Dewane said. The Bishop reflected upon how much the Parish has grown and transformed in the past 100 years while serving the needs of the faithful in the community. The first Masses in Sebring were celebrated in homes by Jesuit priests who would ride horses from Tampa. It was in 1920 when a Mission church in the Diocese of St. Augustine (which encompassed all of Florida at the time), was established in the name of St. Catherine of Siena.

Bishop Dewane also praised all the priests, as well as the religious men and women who served the Parish through the years, who have served the spiritual needs of the Mission and Parish from its beginnings to today, including Father Jose González, who has been Pastor at St. Catherine since 2005.

“We celebrate this anniversary because we are a people of hope,” the Bishop said. “Christ made us to be this way. St. Catherine’s story goes into the present-day world, and into the future. St. Catherine is a family of believers, united in faith and in love of the Lord – to teach, proclaim and celebrate the word of God. This must continue when you leave the walls of the Church and enter out into the community.”

The Bishop also encouraged the faithful to take the time during the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Parish to grow in a deeper relationship with the Lord. “Pause to recommit yourself to live the faith to its fullest out among the people, not just in our homes. Invite those around you to be a part of this anniversary, this celebration of the Lord as a community and in your life.”

The Parish community has grown since its founding, including the establishment of St. Catherine Catholic School in 2008.

“These students are being formed to make a great contribution to our society as men and women of faith who can go out to the public square,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is the blessing of the Lord that the school continues to grow and continues to have the support of the entire community.”

Students from the school served as the Choir for the 100th Anniversary Mass. They were also pivotal in helping to set up the celebratory luncheon which followed the Mass.

Father González said he was grateful for the presence of Bishop Dewane at the important celebration in the life of the Parish. Father also expressed his gratitude to the parishioners who call St. Catherine their home today for their continuing support.

During the reception Father González recited the following prayer:

“To the pioneers, then, who long ago came to St. Catherine Church and whose first thoughts were of Christ and His Church, we humbly pray… We are grateful to those deeds of the past, which are our inspiration for the present and our hope for the future… As we honor the past, we cannot forget the present and the zealous part our parishioners are playing in the glorious progress of the Diocese of Venice, of St. Catherine Church and St. Catherine Catholic School. May all the good work continue as we pray that You, Loving Father, abundantly continue to bless our Diocese, our Parish and our School. Amen.”

The original Parish church was completed in late 1924, and the first Pastor was Father Patrick O’Brien. When the second Pastor arrived, a rectory was added in 1939. Three Victory Noll Sisters served in the Parish from 1956 until 1970. Father Jose Ruiz was named Pastor in 1976, and with his arrival came many changes. A new church was dedicated in 1978 and a new rectory built in 1979. The Parish Hall was constructed in in the early 1980s and the church was renovated and expanded. A new Parish office and youth center were built in 2000 and 2002 respectively. Father González was appointed Administrator upon the death of Father Ruiz in 2002 and has been at the Parish ever since.

Someone who remembers many of the changes at St. Catherine during the past 80 years is Margaret Mercure, who moved to Sebring in 1944 with her young family, following her husband who was in the military during the height of World War II. The couple loved the area so much, they stayed.

Mercure said she has many fond memories of her early years at the Parish, the religious sisters and growth of the area. Her most vivid memory was that there were no bathrooms for women in the original church. Women would need to use the bathroom in the Parish office as the substitute.

“When the new church was built, it was the first thing I checked out,” she said.

Pat Israel has lived in the Parish for 54 years. She received most of her Sacraments there, including First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Holy Matrimony, as did her children.

“St Catherine has been my spiritual home for many years,” Israel said. “It is home.”

As part of the ongoing 100th anniversary celebration, Father González welcomed Sister Nancy Murray, an Adrian Dominican who is also sister of comedian Bill Murray, who used her gift for acting to spread the story of Dominican Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. Transforming herself into the 14th century Saint and patroness of the Dominican Order, Sister Nancy’s one-woman show entertains audiences from across the world with her story of St. Catherine’s fierce devotion and love for God. Sister Nancy offered two presentations to the faithful, as well as to children in religious education classes and at St. Catherine Catholic School.

Happy 100th Anniversary to St. Catherine of Siena Parish!

New affordable housing community marks new beginning for many in Fort Myers

With praise from local and state officials, the first phase of the St. Peter Claver Place affordable housing community, with 136-units, was blessed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Feb. 27, 2024.

The Diocese of Venice partnered on the project with National Development of America, Inc. (NDA), and was supported by the City of Fort Myers, the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency, and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

During the blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bishop Dewane thanked each of the officials and NDA for their support in getting the much-needed project built. A second phase of 78 units is already in the works.

“We had this property and believed this was the perfect place to build quality housing that is affordable for families,” Bishop Dewane said. “By creating this housing, families with children will stay together, and they can remain in Fort Myers and be great contributors to the community.”

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said events, like the ribbon-cutting for St. Peter Claver Place, make the struggles and challenges of governing a city like ours all worthwhile. “Bishop, thank you for pulling this all together.  This shows how government can work to address housing needs working with great community partners.”

City Council member Johnny W. Streets Jr. said he has been on the Council long enough to remember when the project was first proposed more than eight years ago and the results were spectacularly better than he ever imagined.

“This is probably one of my brightest moments since I have been on the Council,” Streets said. “It started with a dream, a vision and now to fruition. Thank you!”

Humbled by the collaborative spirit that has brought St. Peter Claver Place into existence, Michelle Hylton-Terry, Executive Director, Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency, said the project is the culmination of a shared mission that has strengthened the community by addressing a critical need.

“The buildings of St. Peter Claver are not merely structures, but they are cornerstones of hope,” Hylton-Terry said. “They provide a foundation for families to build their lives, nurture their dreams, and contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Fort Myers. This development not only fills a crucial need, but serves as a catalyst for growth, fostering a more inclusive and prosperous city.”

Ryan Benson, Chair of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation Board of Directors, said he was proud his agency could facilitate the project and was impressed by the quality of the development and promised support for future projects.

Although the project faced numerous delays and massive price increases since its first proposal in 2016, National Development’s Rick Miller said the time and effort has been worth every moment.

“Not everyone can afford decent housing,” Miller said. “But these apartments are offered at prices families can actually afford. That is the most rewarding part of this.”

The 136 apartments are two- and three-bedroom units, built to hurricane standards and complete with new appliances. There is an on-site playground and clubhouse. An added amenity is the proximity to AFCAAM of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. This program, on the adjacent property, offers after-school care and tutoring, as well as summer programs for children and teens.

Monthly rent ranges from $630 to $1,300, less than half the market rate. Without promotion or advertising, Miller said there is already a waitlist of more than 1,500 for the 136 apartments that will be available in mid-March. Phase 2 is in the planning stages, and total build out would reach 214 units.

Previously, the Diocese and NDA worked together in Arcadia to build San Pedro at Meadow Park affordable housing, Casa San Juan Bosco I & II, 97 duplex homes used for farmworker housing, and later the adjoining St. John Paul II Villas, a 64-unit senior housing complex. Other projects include the recently completed Casa San Alfonso, an affordable housing community in Zolfo Springs. Additional affordable housing projects are currently in development for Lehigh Acres and Immokalee.

In addition, the Diocese has built several low-income elderly housing communities in Sarasota (2), Fort Myers (4), Port Charlotte (2), and Palmetto (2), as well as creating transitional emergency housing for individuals or families in need in partnership with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. in North Port and Englewood.

Bishop Dewane concluded a blessing prayer service by saying, “May Christ always be here among the residents, nurturing in love, sharing in joy, and comforting in sorrow. Inspired by His teaching, His graces, and His example, may the residents seek to make each home a dwelling place to be shared with God.”

Founder of St. Jude Parish retires

There was an overwhelming show of love and support for Father Celestino Gutiérrez, founding Pastor of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota, as he celebrated his final public Mass at noon on Feb. 25, 2024, before a crowd that overflowed out into the parking lot.

Father Gutiérrez, who is retiring after nearly 60 years of service to the Church, 17 of those at St. Jude, and 39 within the Diocese of Venice, celebrated his farewell Mass. The large crowd did not deter anyone who wished to offer their gratitude to the man who had served as their spiritual leader for many years.

“I have been blessed by the Holy Spirit to have served the wonderful people of St. Jude for so many years, but it is time for me to step away,” Father Gutiérrez said. “I love you all. You are my family; you are my life.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said “Father Celestino’s tremendous influence on St. Jude Parish and indeed, the Diocese of Venice, cannot be overstated. His great joy, which he always credits as a gift of the Holy Spirit, is contagious, and has been a bright light in our Catholic community.  Father Celestino’s pastoral guidance for almost 40 years here in the Diocese has brought many closer to Christ, especially those in the Hispanic community. He had a clear passion for service and taught that so much can be learned about faith through the simple act of helping others.”

A native of Bercimuel, Segovia, Spain, Father Gutiérrez, 83, entered seminary at age 12. He was ordained on June 24, 1964, in Madrid, Spain, and shortly after was sent to Guatemala to serve the poor indigenous population during the civil war. It was there that he developed a passion for serving and working with the poor, whom he said taught him so much about faith, hope and joy, especially in the face of terrible persecution.

“It was a tough experience, but the faith of those people helped me grow in my own faith,” Father said. “There I experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit – joy – that has helped me be a better servant to the People of God throughout my life. When I came to Sarasota (in 1985 at St. Martha Parish), I knew I had found a home.”

While at St. Martha, Father Gutiérrez served the growing Hispanic American Catholic community in Sarasota. He celebrated Mass for migrant workers, created a Christmas program for the needy and focused his efforts to ensure the children took part in religious education programs.

The growing Hispanic Catholic community warranted the establishment of a new Parish and St. Jude was formally erected in May 2006. Hundreds of children participate in the religious education program. Each year as many as 100 receive the Sacrament of First Holy Communion and nearly as many teens receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

A signature event at the Parish has been the Hispanic Festival, which for 19 years has attracted more than 10,000 on the first Saturday in November, in a grand celebration of the cultural heritage of the diverse community. The day includes musical performances and ethnic dancers as well as food from many nations. The proceeds of the Hispanic Festival support the various outreach efforts of the Parish, including a food pantry two days a week and other direct support as needed.

Many expressed their sadness at Father’s retirement, but joy for having been blessed to have him serve as their spiritual leader for so many years.

Maria Sanchez received her First Communion from Father Gutiérrez while he was serving at St. Martha. She was married at St. Jude in 2006, and each of her four children were baptized and received their Sacraments at the Parish.

“This was a sad day, because Father has been part of my life for so long,” Sanchez said after having a photo taken with Father at a post-Mass reception. “He has served this community with all his heart and that is what we will all miss; his big heart, and the joy he brought to the community.”

Father Gutiérrez, who is recovering from a recent illness, said he is not leaving the area or the Parish forever, and will return when he can for special occasions. “I love you all. Thank you for your prayers and support throughout the years. God bless you all!”

Affordable housing community blessed in Arcadia

The recently completed San Pedro at Meadow Park affordable housing community with 23 apartments in Arcadia was blessed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Jan. 30, 2024.

The Diocese of Venice partnered on the project with National Development of America, Inc. (NDA), and was supported by the City of Arcadia.

During the blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bishop Dewane thanked Arcadia city officials and NDA for their support in getting the much-needed project built.

“The Church teaches that it is one of the basic rights of every individual to have adequate housing,” Bishop Dewane said. “We are happily filling a need to allow families to go forward and live together as one, where parents can be with their children and exercise that concept of a whole family being together.”

Arcadia Mayor Robert W. Heine Jr., who spoke on behalf of the city (several council members and other officials were present for the ceremony), beamed with joy as he thanked Bishop Dewane for bringing the San Pedro apartments to Arcadia.

“This is wonderful. As city officials, what we hear about most is the lack of affordable housing; and this will surely help,” Heine said. “This is an impressive project. It is not low-income, but affordable housing for those people who serve our community – teachers, law enforcement, city employees – who may not be able to afford a big new housing with interest rates and other costs.”

Matt Miller, of NDA, said the project has been in the works since 2020, noting the difficulties of getting financing when construction costs escalated. An additional hurdle occurred when Hurricane Ian struck the area in September 2022, just a month after construction began. Nothing was damaged but all of the people working on the project were affected by the storm.

Miller said San Pedro is a garden-style apartment community consisting of 23 three-bedroom, two-bath units. Each unit has new stainless-steel appliances, plus a washer and dryer. The property has an outdoor green space with a playground for children to enjoy, an on-site clubhouse and leasing office.

“The rent will range from $650 to $900 a month, depending on your income, which in these times is amazing,” Miller said.

Miller also thanked Bishop Dewane for being a continuing partner in bringing affordable housing to those who need it the most.

Previously, the Diocese and NDA worked together in Arcadia to build Casa San Juan Bosco I & II, 97 duplex homes used for farmworker housing, and later the adjoining St. John Paul II Villas, a 64-unit senior housing complex. Other projects include the recently completed Casa San Alfonso, an affordable housing community in Zolfo Springs, and the St. Peter Claver Place apartments currently being constructed in Fort Myers. Additional projects are in development.

In addition, the Diocese has built several low-income elderly housing communities in Sarasota (2), Fort Myers (4), Port Charlotte, and Palmetto (2), as well as creating transitional emergency housing for individuals or families in need in partnership with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc.

Bishop Dewane concluded the blessing prayer service by saying, “May Christ always be here among the residents, nurturing in love, sharing in joy, and comforting in sorrow, inspired by His teaching, His graces, and His example. May the residents seek to make each home a dwelling place to be shared with God.”

For information about leasing an apartment at San Pedro at Meadow Park, please call NDC Asset Management at 863-884-2123.

National Eucharistic Revival continue

Placing a greater emphasis on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist has been the ongoing focus of the National Eucharistic Revival, is an initiative called for in June 2022 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

In support of the National Eucharistic Revival, Bishop Frank J. Dewane directed that the resources of the Diocese of Venice focus on engaging the faithful through a series of events celebrating the Most Holy Eucharist.

Foremost of these events was the March 2023 Diocesan Eucharistic Congress. During the Congress, an estimated 4,400 (middle school students, youth and adults) participated in three unique events during the course of two days, at a venue on the Fort Myers riverfront. “What a wonderful time to be together celebrating our Faith in the Most Holy Eucharist,” Bishop Dewane said at the opening of the Congress.

The high point for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress included the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being celebrated each day (one for youth, one for adults).

There were also three group Eucharistic Adorations (two outdoors for the younger participants and one indoors for the adults); a 1,600-person-strong public Eucharistic Procession in the streets of Fort Myers; inspirational talks in both Spanish and English; live music; and fellowship as participants shared the beauty of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Other Diocesan activities throughout the year further supported efforts to celebrate the Source and Summit of our Faith, the Most Holy Eucharist. The Office of Evangelization promoted the Traveling Rosary Congress in October 2023. This Rosary Congress was a unique opportunity to place all prayers and the needs of the faithful into the loving arms of the Mother of God, including a the intention to recognize the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Hosted by 31 Parishes, many had 24 hours of adoration and prayer with different ministries scheduled each hour. Even when the Rosary Congress didn’t last 24 hours, the gatherings always included the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and the praying of the Holy Rosary.

Additionally, there was a concerted effort to expand the That Man Is You (TMIY) Catholic men’s program from its base of two Parishes. Training sessions throughout the summer bore fruit as 11 new Parishes signed on to start this important weekly outreach in September. At those Parishes, the number of participants has been well beyond what was expected and the effect on the Parish life has been noted by several Pastors. The resonance of the program stems from its focus to honestly address the pressures and temptations that men face in our modern culture, especially those relating to their roles as husbands and fathers. Each weekly session has a segment focused on the Most Holy Eucharist and often follows Mass.

Also, throughout 2023, the Office of Marriage and Family hosted a series of events promoting the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, each with a theme stressing the Most Holy Eucharist. This included the two annual anniversary Masses, celebrated by Bishop Dewane, held to honor couples who have dedicated their lives to God and their marriage. The Masses, held in the northern and southern parts of the Diocese to accommodate the large response, recognize couples enjoying significant wedding anniversaries; with many of those present celebrating more than 50 years of marriage while some marked more than 70 years. Between the two Masses, the 630 couples represented a combined 32,500+ years of marriage. Bishop Dewane stressed that the marriages of those present were bound by God, noting how these couples represent a shining example of the important Sacrament of the Eucharist. The 2024 Anniversary Masses will take place at 11 a.m. Feb. 3, at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, and 11 a.m. Feb. 24, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. A reception follows these free event. Registration is handled through local Parishes.

The Diocese of Venice hosted the third “Together in Holiness” Marriage Conference in Fort Myers in October. Again, the theme focused on the Most Holy Eucharist, and the important role in building, and strengthening, a holy marriage. More than 125 couples, representing 31 Parishes, took part in this event. The day included the Mass, celebrated by Bishop Dewane, the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The conference allowed couples to grow together in holiness and their closeness to the Lord; to learn to form their children in the Catholic Faith; to enjoy a day of quality time with their spouse; and to witness dynamic presentations. Plans are already underway for the 2024 conference to take place this fall.

In 2023, the focus of the National Eucharistic Revival switched to Parish outreach. Parishes throughout the Diocese organized Catholic speakers, adoration, Eucharistic processions, and other exciting events.

With the support of the Office of Evangelization and Department of Communications and the USCCB committee for the National Eucharistic Revival, a number or resources have been provided to Parishes. This was done to refresh the teaching of the faithful about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist, and its history dating back to the Last Supper of Christ. Resources also include details about the importance of Eucharistic Adoration, and a list of speakers who are available to speak on this topic.

As a result, many Parishes have expanded their adoration time. Several Parishes have added new days, or extended existing hours, all with positive results. A few Parishes have even begun an adoration focused on teens and families, with participation correspondingly increasing. Through early 2024, several Parishes have brought in numerous high-profile guests to speak about the Most Holy Eucharist and Real Presence, with many more scheduled in the coming months. The attendance at these presentations has been impressive. Resources for this outreach can be found at https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/year-of-parish-revival/.

Building on the success of the first Diocesan Eucharistic Conference, the second Conference is set for March 16, at Bishop Verot Catholic High School, 3398 Sunrise Drive, Fort Myers. All are invited to attend the all-day event of faith and fellowship, featuring inspirational Catholic speakers, including nationally acclaimed Catholic speaker and author Steven Ray, Crystalina Evert, Father Elvis Gonzalez, Katia Aranga, and Tim Glemkowski. English and Spanish sessions will be offered. The day will include the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as Eucharistic Adoration, and confessions. Space is limited so early registration is encouraged. For more information and to register, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-conference-2024/.

The National Eucharistic Revival will culminate in the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States in almost 50 years. This historic gathering will take place in Indianapolis from July 17 to 21, 2024. Bishop Dewane is leading a pilgrimage to the National Congress which the Bishop describes as “a pivotal moment in the Church, and a unique opportunity for participants to draw into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Our Lord.”

The cost of the Diocese of Venice pilgrimage package is $1,049. With the package, pilgrims receive the National Eucharistic Congress 5-day pass, which provides access to all speakers and events, as well as four nights’ accommodations in a 4-star hotel within walking distance of the convention center. Please note, the pilgrimage package does not include transportation or meals. Space is limited! Learn more by visiting https://dioceseofvenice.org/offices/offices-departments/evangelization/pilgrimage-to-national-eucharistic-congress/.

Please visit the Diocese of Venice website, https://dioceseofvenice.org/, to learn about any additional information about the Diocesan activities to promote the National Eucharistic Revival, and check with your Parish to learn more about local Eucharistic events!.

New group of Permanent Diaconate Aspirants studying hard

There are currently 12 men who are off and running in their studies as part of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Class of 2028.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane selected the aspirants after each was nominated and vetted through an extensive screening process. A key characteristic of those selected is that each has a deep understanding of the Faith.

The 12 aspirants come from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds, representing all areas of the Diocese of Venice, forming one of the largest aspirant classes in Diocesan history, explained Diocesan Permanent Diaconate Director of Formation Deacon Bob Gaitens.

Bishop Dewane said of the men chosen: “Each has answered his own call to serve Our Lord and Holy Mother Church in a particular way, as a Permanent Deacon. The Class of 2028 is on a journey of Faith that will bring each of them, and their family, closer to the Lord.”

The aspirants began their five-year formation process in September 2023, with classes taking place at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota. They have already completed their first semester of classes (Old Testament Part 1 and Theology of Orders).  Now they will start on Psychology Part II, Eschatology and Morality.

An added benefit for the Class of 2028 is that they are being formed alongside the Class of 2025. This allows both groups to draw on each other’s strengths to enhance their formation process. Gaitens explained how the Class of 2025 has taken a mentor role with the Class of 2028 and have embraced the responsibility of taking a leadership position with their newer classmates.

“The class has begun to feel comfortable with the program” Deacon Gaitens said. “When classes started in the fall, there was some trepidation about speaking up in Class. But with the encouragement of the Class of 2025, we have seen the Class of 2028 engage in classroom participation. Their interaction has been invaluable and has shown that the class has a very keen understanding and acumen. They are a diverse group and will expand the Diocese’s ability to help in Spanish speaking communities.”

There are currently more than 65 active Permanent Deacons serving in Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice. The most recent Permanent Deacon group was ordained in August 2021. The mission of the Permanent Deacons of the Diocese is to serve as ministers of the Word, where they proclaim the Gospel, preaching and teaching in the name of the Church; helping the needy; serving the faithful; ministering the Sacrament of Baptism; leading the faithful in prayer; witnessing marriages; and conducting wake and funeral services.

Reflecting on the comments from many of his fellow members of the Class of 2028, Matthew Harkness, St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Cape Coral, said it is a blessing to be part of the Diaconate Candidate program and feels honored to be among so many other worthy men who are committed to serving the Lord in a unique way.

The following constitute the Permanent Diaconate Class of 2028:

  • Aldo Boldi, St. Patrick Parish, Sarasota;
  • William (Oscar) Gamble, St. Raphael Parish, Lehigh Acres;
  • Kyle Goneau, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Sarasota;
  • Ted Harb, St. John the Evangelist Parish, Naples;
  • Matthew Harkness, St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Cape Coral;
  • Matthew Lesak, St. Joseph Parish, Bradenton;
  • Roberto Lewis, St. Agnes Parish, Naples;
  • George Smith, Incarnation Parish, Sarasota;
  • Alex Tsai, Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria;
  • Daniel Vasquez, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • David Wallace, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Ed Watson, Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria.

News Briefs for the week of January 12, 2024

Annual Mass held for circus and traveling show workers

Each year the circus and travelling show workers of the United States gather for three days to thank God for their continued blessings. This retreat was Jan. 5-7, 2024, at St. Martha Parish in downtown Sarasota, which is designated the “National Circus Parish.” The pastoral workers, who ensure that the Sacraments are available and maintained for travelling show people, function under the direction of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Cultural Diversity’s Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT). Bishop Frank J. Dewane is the Episcopal Liaison for the Circus Ministry of the PCMRT. Bishop Dewane celebrated the closing Mass on Jan. 7, the Epiphany of the Lord, and he was assisted by several of the priests who serve the circus and traveling show workers. A special moment during the Mass occurred when Sister Joanna Okereke, a Handmaid of the Holy Child Jesus and assistant director of the PCMRT subcommittee, renewed her religious vows. This is done annually on the Epiphany of the Lord, and was presided over by Bishop Dewane, and witnessed by the faithful present.

9 Days for Life novena begins Jan. 16

The faithful are encouraged to pray “9 Days for Life,” an annual Respect Life novena starting Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. In the Catholic Church, a ‘novena’ consists of prayers over nine successive days, and this particular novena is an opportunity for prayer and reparation in observance of the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children on Jan. 22. The overarching intention of the novena is the end to abortion. Each daily prayer intention highlights a related topic and is accompanied by a reflection, educational information, and suggested daily actions. Participants may access the novena and also subscribe to receive the daily prayers by email or text message in English at 9daysforlife.com or in Spanish at respectlife.org/9-dias-por-la-vida.

Migrant Care Grants application period open

Grant requests for funding of projects in 2024 are available from the Foundation for the Care of the Migrant Poor Fund and need to be submitted no later than Friday, March 31, 2024. To be considered a grant, the project must clearly be seen as a service to the migrant poor or new immigrants. Preference will be given to those projects under Catholic auspices. Applications can be submitted by visiting https://www.grantinterface.com/Home/Logon?urlkey=ccfsf.

New mural adorns Verot building

Students returned back from Christmas break at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers on Jan. 8, 2024, and were greeted by a new sight on campus! Eric Riemenschneider, a graphic design teacher, was busy during the past few weeks working on a new mural outside, in the cafeteria courtyard. The mural reads VEROT in bold letters on a blue background. Within the letters are symbols of school life, hands clasped together in prayer, caps tossed at graduation, St. Francis de Sales and Bishop Verot, patrons of the school, athletes in action, and the school Viking logo. Above the VEROT image is a large white cross. The mural is not complete, weather delayed the progress, but judging by its look so far, it will inspire Bishop Verot students for years to come.

Prayer Walk for Life Jan. 20 in Ave Maria

The Respect Life Ministry of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria is hosting its 3rd annual Prayer Walk for Life, 10 a.m., Jan. 20. The walk begins with remarks from Bishop Frank J. Dewane and other dignitaries at the university football stadium and will then proceed through the university and conclude in the town square. More than 1,000 took part in 2023.

Knights on Bikes deliver toys to Clewiston mission

The Knights on Bikes, a motorcycle club of the Knights of Columbus, rode out to Santa Rosa de Lima Mission in Montura Ranch Estates, just south of Clewiston, on Jan. 6, 2024, the Feast of the Epiphany. There they delivered and distributed toys to migrant children in the community.  The Knights on Bikes mission is to promote and adhere to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelize through fellowship, charity, and service.

WARNING – Text/Email SCAM Alert

It has once again been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Venice that parishioners have received text/email messages from people pretending to be clergy – including Bishop Frank J. Dewane – or Parish/school staff, requesting donations in the form of gift cards and/or wire transfers. It is Diocesan policy that neither the Bishop, nor priests or staff request donations in the form of gift cards, PayPal, MoneyGram, etc. Without this awareness, some have responded to the spoofed messages, with consequences, including loss of funds. There is an established process in place on how parishioners can make donations and participate in the life of the Diocese/Parish/school. If you receive such a SCAM text or email, please immediately contact the Diocesan/Parish/school directly!